It is a peculiar accident of our times that a summer afternoon spent on the waters of Lake Calhoun or Lake of the Isles--in the heart of the state's biggest city--is often more tranquil than an afternoon on many outstate waters. All right. It's not an accident. It's a product of sensible regulation. On city lakes you can't operate an internal-combustion motor; as a result the urban waters are gloriously devoid of the commotion of Jet Skis and motorboats. For people in canoes, that has made these little treasures as desirable as anything this side of the Boundary Waters. And no canoe trip in the Twin Cities offers more in the way of ease and variety than Minneapolis's much-celebrated Chain of Lakes. In an hour or two, you can mansion-gawk on Isles, walleye-fish on Calhoun, and still have time to check out the osprey platforms on Cedar Lake. It makes for a lovely paddle, though we'd be remiss if we failed to recommend a little-explored leg of the trip: At the north end of Cedar Lake is a cement tunnel. It is small, but not so small you can't pass through with a canoe. Pause for a moment in the middle, listen to the weird echoes, and paddle on. At the other end of the looking glass is the Chain of Lakes' forgotten stepchild, Brownie Lake: a weedy, seldom-visited body of water where, if you look long and hard, you'll see snapping turtles the size of restaurant woks lurking in the milfoil. If you don't own your own conveyance, the city's Parks and Recreation Board rents aluminum canoes at the pavilion at Lake Calhoun for $6 an hour. They're a bit battered and not particularly light, but they're perfectly serviceable.


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